SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
9/13/2006 11:17:00 PM
Steve Spurrier's grooming of quarterback Blake Mitchell (left) hasn't quite gone as planned this season.
Grant Halverson/Getty Images
This isn't the way South Carolina fans envisioned it. When the long-suffering program hired Steve Spurrier as its latest savior in 2004, one could logically picture footballs flying through the air at Williams-Brice Stadium the way they once did at Florida Field. Sure, the personnel on hand wasn't exactly up to Spurrier's Gator-era standard, but he'd worked miracles before, both at Duke and at previously suffering Florida, and, after perhaps a rough first season, he'd surely do the same in Columbia.
It hasn't exactly worked out that way through the season's first two games. South Carolina, despite the return of starting QB Blake Mitchell, All-Freshman WR Sidney Rice and 2004 running-back standout Cory Boyd, ranks 99th nationally in total offense (264.5 yards per game) -- one spot higher than last year's 7-5 team. The Gamecocks' lone touchdown in their opening-night 15-0 win over Mississippi State came on a trick play (former QB-turned-receiver Syvelle Newton threw a 54-yard pass to Boyd). Georgia, meanwhile, held South Carolina scoreless, marking the first shutout of a Spurrier-coached team since his first season at Duke in 1987.
Following the Georgia loss -- in which the Gamecocks at one point had a second and goal at the 2 but failed to score -- Spurrier promised sweeping changes. "We're making some changes in our personnel around here this week," said the Ball Coach. "We don't want to divulge all of our new plans, but we will be a different-looking offense." We'll never know whether part of Spurrier's plans included one of his trademark quarterback switches, but now he has no choice. On Wednesday, Mitchell, a fourth-year junior, was suspended following his arrest for simple assault stemming from a incident at 1:30 a.m. According to a police report, Mitchell punched a man in the eye during a bar fight.
Spurrier said Wednesday night Mitchell likely would have missed Saturday's game against Wofford due to injuries, and regardless it's not like his absence affects their chances of winning the game (or even the following week's game against Florida Atlantic). The question is, what happens if Mitchell's likely replacement, true freshman Chris Smelley (9-of-15 for 112 yards against Georgia), looks good in his absence? On the one hand, it's hard to believe a freshman would be better equipped to run Spurrier's offense than a guy with three years and 13 starts under his belt. On the other hand, Mitchell has never been better than average (58.5 career completion percentage, 2,703 yards, 18 TDs, 16 INTs) and there's a definite ceiling to his potential. Might Spurrier use the next two games to groom Smelley for the Gamecocks' Sept. 28 date with No. 3 Auburn?
And what are the other changes Spurrier has in plan? Most likely they involve a shuffling along the offensive line. South Carolina lost three veteran starters from last year's line, and it has shown. "Most of our problems come down to blocking," said Spurrier. That was never more evident in the Georgia game than when Spurrier's team got a huge interception at its own 2-yard-line late in the second quarter only to have tailback Mike Davis stuffed in the end zone for a safety. "Some dummy coach [Spurrier] called a little sweep and thought some guys could block," explained the dummy coach.
Coming into the season, it looked like South Carolina,with a relatively light SEC schedule, could actually contend in the East. The way Georgia, Florida and Tennessee have looked so far in comparison to the Gamecocks, you'd have to say it doesn't look so likely anymore, but it will be interesting to see whether or not Spurrier can kickstart his woeful offense.
I wonder if Spurrier regrets leaving UF. I know he said in countless interviews that he felt his calling elsewhere, but come on. The guy is an absolute perfectionist. It only took him a couple years to give up on Washington in the NFL. I wonder if we could see him elsewhere next season if SC can't come up with a quality win against Auburn, Florida, or even Tennessee (which I'm not sure what to think about right now)
Blake Mitchell has shown potential at times, but he is certainly not good enough to get into bar fights and then keep his starting position! Coach Spurrier has a lo-o-o-o-ong history of success on offense. The players need to implement it. He'll pull something off; he always has. The line is a sieve, but give Coach a few years to recruit. Go Gamecocks!! PS I DO NOT believe in the Chicken Curse, unless of course even Spurrier fails to win at Carolina.
Being a UGA fan I was glad the Sidney Rice didn't see the ball very much last Saturday. Although I must say everytime they showed Mr. Rice he was on the sideline. I did not see the Miss St. game, but I believe he didn't have a big presence in that game either. Anyways hopefully the changes that are supposedly being made will help SC out. I would love to see them beat UF and UT again this season.
As an Auburn fan, I enjoyed watching us beat #4 Florida in 1993, #1 Florida in 1994, and # Florida in 2001. But all the other years they kicked out butts. When Zook took over, I realized that it was, in fact, Spurrier that kicked out butts those years. Of course, Florida was off our schedule during the Zook years (and is back on now that they are good again). BUT, even given my great disdain for Spurrier after the beatings, I have to say the SEC is better with a successful "Ole' Ball Coach". I hope he can get things going soon at SC, it will make it mean more to me when Auburn kicks the Gamecock's butt!
whatever happened to cade thompson u know the kid that pushed mitchell so hard in the spring and summer practice? really if he was so good why is smelley even being considered right now? Spurrier will always be a great ball coach, but hes not the position like he was in florida with rex grossman and brock berlin where it didnt matter who he played and could still count on winning. he needs to figure out his blocking first and settle on a quarter back
The ol' visor-tosser should bench Blake until his bar-fight case runs its course. If Mitchell's found guilty or is revealed to have been an instigator or aggressor in the events leading up to the assault, then boot him from the program. Frankly, that would be the best-case scenario for Spurrier and Carolina - a chance to work with the young talent, and a perfect excuse for a lost season.
Just imagine the headlines, Stew... "BM in the Outhouse" "BM Squeezed Out" "BM Flushed From Football" "BM Dropped by Carolina" Pre-pubescent boys will have a field day!
You hit the nail on the head in a couple of areas. I will argue that it really doesn't matter how good of a receiver, running back, or QB- even if your have 2 good ones at each position- no blocking equals zero yards. Our line is inexperienced and young. Since they haven't really had time to play there's been very little time to gell. We all know that the offensive line has to be on point with each other just like the QB, RB's, and Rec's have to be. Until that happens, which I really hope won't be long, we'll continue to play like the keystone cops on offense....just like the Raiders (poor Aaron Brooks). Our defense, on the other hand, has looked pretty nice considering. I think they did a great job against Jawja(Georgia)considering it seemed like they were on the field for the entire game except for about 3-5 minutes of offense. The Ball Coach will get this in check. Smelley is gonna be a good one. On another note living in Germany for the last 16 years has been great...but last year it got oh so lecker schmecker!!! Digital cable has a channel called NASN(North Atlantic Sports Network) which has only American sports. NFL, NBA, NHL, and NCAA BB and Football. It also has the MLB, which to me is like watching the tree channel in slo-mo. For NCAA games they show a lot of the SEC games. I have to stay up 'til about 5 Sunday morning to watch it all but after seeing none at all for so long I'll take bloodshot eyes on Sunday any time!!! Keep up the good work Homeboi and to all my Gamecock brethren hang in there. We've been thru worse B4 and no team in the country has the fan support like what we give our Gamecocks. They will come thru for us. Good luck to you taters out there in your season.....'til you play us!!! Go Cocks!!! Eurocock
The only people who thought Carolina could contend in the SEC were Gamecock fanatics and those sportswriters who drank the Spurrier Kool Ade. Face it, folks: the SEC is a totally different conference now than it was when Spurrier coached at UF. At Florida, Spurrier had one tough game in the East every year, Tennessee. Now, Spurrier has to face UT, Florida and the new beast, UGA. Keep drinking the Kool Ade, Cocks. the Ball Coach (hasn't the shelf life on this cutesy nickname expired?) will be no more successful than Granny Holtz.